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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Jesus, Religion and My Friends...

He's got it all wrong...
An old and dear friend recently posted a video on Facebook of a rap poem that went viral five years ago, about hating religion but loving Jesus.

Among its many claims, the poet suggests that Christ came to abolish the institutionalized practice of devotion to God because of corruption.

It's amazing.  The video has over 32 million views!

I first saw it during the height of the frenzy, as well as several responses, including by Bishop Robert Barron and Fr. Claude Burns (aka Fr. Pontifex on YouTube, who produced his own clever rap poem using the same motif as the original) but it got me thinking, about all those millions of people, who, maybe like my friend, agree, or at least sympathize, with the poet's claim to loath religion in a culture that is so infused with a warped sense of individuality and freedom.

Unfortunately today, instead of an Absolute Truth, which dictates and shapes our understanding and guides our moral behavior, truth, with a small t, has become subject to interpretation. Therefore, one man's truth is as valid as the next guy's and his, is as valid as the one next to him and so on.  It's part of the "coexist" mentality.

Meanwhile, in all this individualism and freedom (Which by the way, Lincoln once said, "is not the right to do what we want, but what we ought"), our relationship with God has suffered in the process. God has been bent and contoured to fit the image and likeness of the individual, instead of the individual transforming his life to fit God.  So, if someone doesn't like the message of the church they're attending because it doesn't fit their lifestyle, they go down the block and find one that does.

As Catholic author/speaker Stephen Ray said at a conference I attended recently, "Americans choose their churches and their morals like they choose their restaurants; how they feel that day."

In this case, the poetic rapper makes the point that it's all about him and Jesus; a vertical relationship, which has no room for authority, doctrine and, least of all, religion.

But, did Jesus mean it to be just about a relationship without religion?

Last weekend, I was at one of, what I regularly call, my biannual weekend getaways with the boys, although, I point out, it is without alcohol, drugs, tattoos, debauchery or the traps that Hollywood movies like to showcase.

It was a retreat, meant to lead men, from all walks of life, ages and faith backgrounds, to a closer relationship with Jesus and His Church, which I have been involved with for the past ten years.

The power of the Cross...
Yet, as long as I have been serving on these spiritual sanctums, it took until this year, while I was running errands and thinking about the hating religion and loving Jesus video that my friend posted, for me to realize that the underline theme of the retreats, and this last one in particular, is the Cross, and its vertical and horizontal relational components.

What I mean by that is that, according to Jesus' own words, the greatest Commandments are to love God (vertical) and love our neighbor (horizontal).  So, our faith was never meant to be individualistic and inward but public and outward.

In fact, at one point on Saturday, one of the men I was talking to shared that, while he wanted to believe in God, his faith was still a struggle for him, which reminds me of the father, whose son was possessed, and, after Jesus cures him, says, "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief."

I told him that, for me, one of the ways I know God exists is because I feel His presence through the brotherhood in the holy grounds of the retreat house, which is why I keep coming back!  God becomes real in the love we share with one another, the service we render, the peace we experience and the lives we impact. It's surreal. That's the horizontal aspect of the Cross.

So, it's not just about me and Jesus because that's not what Jesus taught.

I remember, before attending my first men's getaway, when I was one of those people who said I believed in God "in my own way."  And, I didn't need the Pope, or the Church, or anybody else telling me how or what to believe. Maybe, I was a lot more like the rapper poet in the video, than I would like to admit.

However, the more I learned about my faith and the more I studied the Bible, the more I understood that it's not just about me and God.  It's about me and God and the person in the pew next to me, and my family, and my friends, and my co-workers and the people I come across on any given day.

It's about family; God's family, which is what the Bible is all about.

Jesus called us to take care of one another, even our enemies, and said that our final judgement was not going to be based on our relationship or our faith but on our love and service for others; "For I was hungry and you gave me to eat; thirsty and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger and you invited me in; naked and you clothed me; sick and you visited me; in prison and you came to me; ... whatever you did for the least of my brothers, you did for me." (Matt 25:31-40)

The keys to the kingdom of heaven...
Let's also keep in mind that Jesus was a devout Jew, who observed the Jewish customs, including Passover, attending service at the Temple, affirming Scripture, the Commandments and the Law of the Prophets.

Furthermore, He tells His disciples, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach." (Matt 23:2-3)

While He railed against corruption of the religious of His time, He also said He did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it.

In any case, the bottom line is this; Christ knew the human condition.  He understood well that left to our own devices, our pride, egos and self-righteousness would eventually lead to division and strife, including about the faith.

That is why He did not leave us a book.  He founded and left us a Church (And, dare I say a religion), which He founded upon the Rock of Peter, which He gave the Keys to the Kingdom.  A Church, whom He promised the Holy Spirit to guide to "all the truth," gave the power to "bind and loose on earth what would be bound and loosed in heaven," said that whoever listens to them, listens to Him and whoever rejects them, rejected the one who sent Him, and vowed the "gates of hell would never prevail against."

Members of His Church, the Apostles and their successors, have been heeding to Jesus' Last Command to make disciples of all nations and baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit ever since.  They preserved and passed on the teachings of Christ from generation to generation.  They compiled and canonized the books of the Bible. They started the hospital and university systems, established orphanages, helped the poor, the sick and the downtrodden and became the largest charitable organization on the planet.

Two thousand years later, despite continuous attempts to destroy it both from without and from within, His Church (And religion) is over one billion strong, and, just as its founder, has and will always be a sign of contradiction in the culture; no matter what the popular opinion may be.

You can't have a king without his kingdom and you can't have Jesus without His Church (And Religion), no matter how many views a video may get...


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